Creating a universal robot controller for Industrie 4.0

Control Engineering International: A controller designed for independent robot developers aims to help the Chinese robot market to continue to grow rapidly, according to Control Engineering China.

By Aileen Jin March 2, 2016

China’s robotics industry has gone through a major period of growth and prosperity thanks to the approval and implementation of policies such as "Intelligent manufacturing" and "Made in China 2025." In 2014, the Chinese industrial robot market became the largest in the world with more than 56,000 robots being sold and an overall industry growth of 54%.

Robots continue to become more sophisticated as intelligent controls, or the central nervous system, develop. The accuracy and stability of the robot’s controller are key factors in influencing the robot’s performance.

Li Guozhong (Vincent Li), the business development director for Advantech (China), discussed with Control Engineering China how the company is developing a robot controller designed to operate like an industrial PC (IPC).

"Some users who used the low-cost controller at the very start would find the accuracy and stability of such controller can’t meet the requirements half a year later," Li said. Currently, robot controllers are mainly manufactured by nonChinese manufacturers, however, the "four biggest manufacturers" who dominate about half of the world sell their high-quality controllers with their robot systems rather than separately. Although more enterprises are starting to become engaged in robot manufacturing, they have to rely on others due to the lack of a universal controller. 

Independent robot controller

Aimed at the demands of independent development of users, a robot controller is being designed for independent developers. It integrates a traditional robot controller into one PCI control card, which can be inserted into any IPC with a PCI interface; development runs in Microsoft Windows. This is designed to make the hardware layer function an open and extensible architecture. It can control industrial robots such as Delta, selective compliance assembly robot arms (SCARA), and 6-axis robots. The open hardware architecture and plug-and-play rapid development are designed to improve the working efficiency of users who need secondary development platforms and special flexible customizing functions.

Li said that when control functions are designed for a 6-axis robot, IPC with the robot controller will suffice. If the user wants to add a data collection function, data collection cards can be added.

If the user wants to add machine vision, one machine vision card can be added to the robot controller. The media board processor can control vision without consuming CPU capacity.

Li said that control system efficiency is improved substantially with a strong hardware design. 

Help with integration

Knowledge about integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrie 4.0 helps in designing a robot controller, Li said.

Advantech acquired LNC in 2013, gaining expertise in control technology and precision machining. Applying that knowledge to robot control may make it easier for Advantech to integrate robots into factories.

"When robots appear in factories or the production line, it will not become an isolated island. We can integrate robots with the Internet of Things and Industrie 4.0 with a more complete plan from the very start," Li said. Advantech’s IoT plans are reflected in controller integration and in vertical industries such as metalworking. Advantech also has entered into Industrie 4.0 memorandum of cooperation with Goodway Machine Corp., the largest machine tool plant in Taiwan.

Li said that by preassembling in new equipment or adding certain modules or software in the old equipment, Advantech upgraded Goodway equipment for end users to an Industrie 4.0 or Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) architecture, including uniform management and system monitoring. The experience with Goodway is helping Advantech launch an Industrie 4.0 solution to meet the needs of users in the field of metalworking.

Aileen Jin is editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


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Author Bio: Aileen Jin is editor-in-chief of Control Engineering China.